First stop on the 2012 PFLA field tour: Dockside Green Bioenergy Facility, slightly west of downtown Victoria, B.C.

A creative and innovative bunch with an exceptional knack for growing trees, private forest owners are always on the lookout for new and viable markets to sell our forest products. Interested to explore alternative, local, green opportunities, and excited to learn firsthand about the production of bioenergy, PFLA was fortunate to find one of the few bioenergy facilities in B.C. just a short bus ride away.

Greeted by Dockside Green’s Operations Coordinator, Madonna Blunt, we were graciously treated to a grand tour of the cutting edge facility. Utility Operator, Terry Balak, explained in detail how the Nexterra gasification system works. In lieu of Terry’s informative and thoughtful descriptions, you can find a diagram of the system here.

Designed to turn wood waste into heat and hot water for a mix of residential, commercial and industrial tenants at the Dockside Green community, facility operators have experimented with a number of locally sourced wood residue alternatives—construction material, municipal tree trimmings, landscape chippings—since they started using the technology in 2009.

Bioenergy is not without its obstacles.

It’s true. The Dockside Green Bioenergy Facility is stunning in its design, construction, concept and intention; however, in practice, producing biofuel on southern Vancouver Island has its challenges.

The first obstacle: finding a reliable, consistent, predictable source of fuel. Terry’s experience and expertise revealed that inconsistencies in the materials they’ve used in the past prove the system needs a particular product to run efficiently—a wood residue source that is uniform in size, moisture and species mix.

          

The next obstacle: Finding reliable, consistent, predictable fuel at competitive prices that make bioenergy an economically attractive option. Presently, Dockside Green uses liquid natural gas to provide tenants with heat and hot water rather than the bioenergy facility because, at this point in time, B.C.’s natural gas prices are still the more affordable option.

As forest owners, we have oodles of harvest residue; the key is finding a competitive way to process it. Once we do, the benefits are bountiful—improved reforestation, minimized wildfire hazards, increased economic opportunities for harvesting contractors, and displaced reliance on fossil fuels.

In Europe, fuel wood—the roughest part of the tree—sells for upwards of  $80 a tonne. In B.C., we receive considerably less than that for our saw logs—the best part of the tree. The prices European forest owners get for their product has a huge influence on how they’re able to manage their forests.

We’re optimistic that over time solutions will emerge and technologies will develop that enable facilities like Dockside Green to tap into the potential of timber processing residue. In the meantime, we’re looking forward to being part of the solution and we’re grateful for the opportunity to see up close some of the challenges, struggles and possibilities of an emerging bioenergy market.